Road tripping? How shall we get there? And out comes a favourite maps app, and we blindly take whatever route the app suggests. But the app has zero feelings and the routes suggested are just part of a larger “algorithm”, which probably consists of how many people use that route to get somewhere. This is not helpful. In fact it is often, very often, very painful. A pain exacerbated by data, validated by a huge number of maps-app driven delivery folk riding two wheelers.
But real road tripping is about the road itself. “The Journey Is The Destination”. This is an oft quoted aphorism, and one understands its true meaning only when one road trips extensively. By extensively, I mean hundreds of thousands of cumulative kilometers over years. For us, its been more than 120,000 km over 12 years. So when the journey itself is the destination, or at least part of it, should it not be beautiful? Relying on maps alone doesn’t help.
While on a road trip, we prefer taking routes which are beautiful, even if they may be slightly longer. We want to drive through gorgeous landscapes, scenic roads, quaint villages, winding roads through farms or forests. Long stretches of straight concrete highways that just get you to your destination don’t cut the ice. But the typical maps app will try and push you through ANY route which it feels is the fastest and connects your start and end points. It will try to make you pass through tiny congested lanes only to save 4 minutes. It will make you go through straight boring highways with no exits, when beautiful winding roads through farms and many small chai shops (tapris, as they are very often called around here) are around, taking maybe 30 minutes more. But would you rather not take out half an hour, sip a fresh cup of chai (or filter coffee), looking at a beautiful view?
Like, when we were in Kannur, our hosts suggested us this beautiful route to Coonoor which our navigation app never could suggest. We plotted the journey, village to village, and had one of the most beautiful road trips in Southern India. Or while driving from Mumbai to Jaipur, there are alternative routes that are much more interesting than the boring, industrial NH48, which allowed us to visit Maheshwar.
Once on a trip down south we stopped by a road side shop for fresh coffee. While we were sipping our delicious and fresh filter coffee, we noticed the owner was cooking something else as well. Upon asking he said it was fish curry and he would serve it with neer dosa. He requested us to stay back and taste those too. We gladly obliged. And while we waited he told us how he had spent over 15 years working in Mumbai, but he is happier here, near his village. Such stories make the memories from road trips, not that you reached 45 minutes earlier.
The only way to discover these alternate routes is through asking around. Ask people who have traveled to these destinations. Check on your favourite maps app when sitting on a laptop or desktop (for a larger screen experience, good for searching around). You may need to also note down village names which you want to cross (unfortunately almost no navigation app allows you to feed what you want to avoid, not yet). Even within cities, the maps app takes you through narrow, congested market lanes. When, (because we are well versed with our cities), we know of better routes, even if they take slightly longer. But they are more beautiful.
Some navigation apps will forcibly reroute you, even if you select the longer route. The best thing we have found, in longer journeys, is to select villages along our preferred route and use them to force a new navigation. Unfortunately you have to be careful as the “village name” pin in your navigation app will take you inside the village. You have to be careful not to enter the village but go around it. It is tricky. But this is how we traveled before we had navigation apps.
We try and plot a route before we travel. We see if we can pass through rural areas, avoiding industrial corridors. We never drive after dark, and our typical driving day doesn’t exceed 12 hours (at the maximum). We also try and find quaint, interesting places to stay enroute, booking them before we leave. That’s the only we can get the maximum from our trip.
Maybe one day, if I have enough money, I will create a navigation app which has an option for “Scenic Route Only”.